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Painting a fresh red apple with paintbrushThere it is again. A post-game interview in which a Big League ball player describes his emotional state during a key point in the game as having been “definitely surreal.”

I’ve noticed a lot athletes, particularly members of the San Francisco Giants, because I watch their games more than others, are using “surreal” these days as a go-to adjective to describe what older players may have called “amazing,” “fantastic,” or “unreal.”

Those words are all acceptable synonyms for the non-art-world meaning of surreal, though they give no hint of the other-worldly, hallucinatory sense at the core of things properly called surreal.

While it’s no reason to send a player back to the minors for more practice on interview phrases, I wish ball players would excise surreal from their bat rack of handy cliches. It makes them sound as if they had spent the previous four hours at a Phish concert rather than on a baseball diamond.

Just the other day, grinning Giants rookie Kelby Tomlinson said the experience of hitting a grand slam as his first home run in the Major Leagues was, you got it, surreal.

I’m the first to give the kid a break since he’s probably heard plenty of other ball players this season describing other key hits, outstanding plays, dugout pranks or standing ovations as surreal. But an intervention is needed.

It’s become so widespread a usage that even players who speak through translators are using surreal in their native tongue like so many dazed Phish heads or art history minors. I fear by next season, players will be describing their emotional highs as “definitely post-impressionistic” or “downright Dadaesque.”

To clear the air, I offer a few baseball scenarios that would truly warrant being described as surreal:

— If Hunter Pence, the free-spirited Giants outfielder, walks his pet lobster on a leash — Salvador Dali-style — to the batting cage in advance of taking his pre-game rips.

— If hundreds of black-suited umpires wearing bowler hats descend slowly through the stadium air with rolled up umbrellas, jewel-studded chest protectors and featureless faces.

— If Los Angeles Dodgers players run forever toward first base with heavy bags of money encumbering their legs, but never reach base, while packs of vicious gulls befoul their tidy white uniforms with gallons of guano. (This is a hallucinatory dream enjoyed, perhaps, by many Giants fans.)

— If Giants manager Bruce Bochy speaks ancient Etruscan during his post game press conference and all the media people understand perfectly as he explains how shortstop Brandon Crawford “ground out a good at-bat” despite how his long hair was transformed into a tangle of hissing serpents.

Sea. Creative.Don’t get me wrong. Many unusual things can happen during a baseball game. It’s true one can go to the park or tune in a game on any given day and stand a very good chance of witnessing something never seen before.

Still, nothing truly surreal happens, unless you mistakenly count the August 1951 game when the St. Louis Browns used 3-foot-7-inch Eddie Gaedel as a first-inning pinch hitter. Gaedel, who wore the number 1/8, drew a four-pitch walk.

There was nothing surreal about this episode, which was cooked up by Bill Veeck, the Browns’ shameless publicity hound of an owner. Veeck reportedly threatened to shoot Gaedel if the wee man dared swing at a pitch.

Now had Gaedel blasted the first pitch over the center-field wall, causing all the time pieces in the stadium to slowly melt while the fielders’ mitts overflowed with milk and radishes, there would have been only one way to accurately call the play: definitely surreal.


Baseball’s back, and all is right with the world


Old Baseball and Glove on Faded WoodWatched some baseball on TV last night and woke up feeling rested and optimistic. Switching channels to the NCAA finale also was good for the mood, but the big credit goes to baseball. If you’re watching baseball, you’re either retired or you worked your day out just right.

Watching baseball is like reading a good book. It takes patience to get to the really good parts, and the good parts make you forget about the waiting. Watching baseball is like weeding the garden. It’s incremental and rewarding in a subtle way. At the end of the furrow, nothing has been created but something has been accomplished.

Baseball is an old movie, black and white even when it isn’t. You may have seen the pre-season TV commercials for the Giants, showing the end of last year’s World Series mostly in black and white. Good commercials.

Because I like baseball, I suppose I should like soccer. Like baseball, soccer is a process. What happens in the third inning, or the tenth minute, sets the stage for what happens in the seven inning or the final minute. But they’re always moving in soccer and there aren’t enough pauses, fresh starts. And if you didn’t run around soccer fields when you were a kid, the game doesn’t have the nostalgic appeal of baseball.

I was, of course, one of the worst baseball players ever. My little league was on an Air Force base. There were four teams each year, the Flyers, Jets, Rockets and Pilots. Hats were blue, red, green and yellow, in that order. No one wanted to be a Pilot because of the yellow. My best friend was the best player and he had enough pull with the coaches to save me from the yellow.

I like basketball, too, but football not so much. Football fans are too loud. And football players are almost anonymous with all that hardware welded onto their helmets. In baseball, you can see faces. Hunter Pence should be seen. You recognize your favorites by the way they stand at the plate.

Football players have to rest up for a week. Baseball players play all the time. If you miss a game, no worries, there will be another one tomorrow. If you can’t watch, they’re worth listening to on the radio. If only there was a way to have Vin Scully talk us through every game.

It would be better if there were still double-headers. Your day was baseball and nothing else except for getting there and back.

3d rendering of a Baseball on a pitchers mound

Baseball is a warm evening, a sip of whiskey, a poem that makes sense the first time through. It doesn’t have to be pro ball. Knowing that the boys of summer are millionaires washes some of the charm away, so a high school game, an American Legion game if they still have those, even a softball game at the schoolyard down the street is worth a few minutes or a few hours.

Some of my friends love to memorize the numbers of baseball, the batting averages and the obscure statistics like number of times reaching base against a left-handed pitcher from another hemisphere. TRBLPHs, for short. They like to argue about baseball. Roberto Clemente or some other fellow?

I don’t have a head for that stuff. But I can remember in great detail how Mickey Mantle looked catching a deep fly while we watched it on TV and my dad ate pretzels and clam dip and drank Oly beer and forgot just for a while to be upset about this or that. I remember Dizzy Dean singing the Wabash Cannonball during the seventh-inning stretch and my dad waking up and singing along, like we didn’t have a care in the world.